Tuesday April 18, 4:15 in the Library’s Hatfield Room, Prof. Govindan Parayil will give the 2017 Teppola Chair lecture on “The Return of ‘the Machinery Question’ and the Failed Promise of Globalization.”
Abstract: Political economists and social critics of the 19th century theorized “the machinery question”: the rage against machines by unemployed former artisans and alienated workers after the onset of modern capitalism. Two centuries later, resistance to the “march of the machine” has returned. Whereas the Luddites in the 19th century English mills attacked textile machines as tangible instruments of their oppression, information-age revolts rage against the post-Cold War global political and economic order. There is public anxiety and fear that the twin forces of globalization and technological innovation are forging an economic future in which most work will be done by autonomous technologies. Looming in scholarly debates and public discourse is the prospect of a dystopia worse than the one Charlie Chaplin portrayed in the film “Modern Times,” that is, an economic marketplace where humans need not apply. In Bill Joy’s words, we fear a future “that doesn’t need us.” In this talk, I will investigate whether, as several major technological advances revolutionize the world’s political economy, it is possible to have a fair economic future in the face of gross asymmetries in social relations, political power, and economic opportunities for the marginalized and excluded majority.